Monday, December 28, 2009

My Father

As most of you probably already know, my father passed away on December 7th. It was very sudden and the result of a horrible accident. Needless to say the last couple of weeks have been a rollercoaster of emotion and travel.

The Accident
Before I explain what happened, you should know that my father was the most cautious person around guns that I know. He loved them and safety always came first. This was a lesson instilled in us from a very young age.

Sunday, Dec 6th (at about 5pm), my father was attempting to remove a shell that had been jammed in his Ruger 6mm rifle. This rifle was notorious for jamming, however it was very very accurate. Rather then remove the round in the same way that they had always done it (a brass welding rod, wrapped in a bit of cotton), my dad wanted to try a new way that he had read about. The new way involved pushing the bullet (which had separated from the shell & gun powder) back into the shell, disloding the primer and soaking everything in an oil that would neutralize the gun powder. At the time of the accident, the primer was no longer in the shell and the bullet had been pushed back into the shell, however it wasn't seated properly. Dad had poured plenty of oil down the barrel, over several days. He then took a air drill and proceeded to drill the shell out of the barrel (he had removed it from the stock and had removed the firing pin). He was drilling from the action end of the barrel. The heat of the drill must have ignited the gunpowder which caused the shell to explode (rather then fire the bullet as the bullet was seated completely). Dad took shell shrapnel in the chest and face. A piece of the drill bit entered his head through his eye socket and lodged itself in his brain (about mid line & left hemisphere). At this point he couldn't see but somehow managed to walk to the side door of the shop. My brother, having been in the shop and heard the explosion, caught up with him there. He called out to Dad, dad turned to look at him (never speaking) and Greg insisted he was going to the hospital. They made it about 4 more steps, to outside, when Dad collapsed and lost consciousness. Greg called 911 and then ran up to the house to get Janet to help him get Dad in to a car. The shop (and houses) are about 40 miles from the nearest hospital. When an accident happens at the farm you never wait for the ambulance, it just takes too long, you get in the car and drive as fast as you can towards the hospital, either meeting the ambulance on the way or beating it.

Greg & Janet stopped at my grandparents to tell them what happened and then raced on towards Endicott (about 15 mi away). Once in Endicott Dad was transferred to an ambulance and a helicopter was called in to meet him in Colfax. They then drove to Colfax where I think a couple of xrays were taken (at first it was thought that dad had a wound in his torso and that was the greatest concern). The helicopter then flew Dad on to Sacred Heart in Spokane. Kacie, my cousin who is a pharmacist, met Dad as he was brought into the trauma center at Sacred Heart. Due to her credentials and history at the hospital she was able to remain in the trauma room until the rest of the family arrived. Spokane is 80 miles from the farm, so it took them a little while to get there.

The surgeons rushed dad into surgery, as his brain was swelling due to the trauma from the drill bit. They removed a portion of his skull to try to relieve the pressure but did not expect him to make it through the night (now 11pm). Through the night and next morning his brain continued to swell. The intercranial pressure in your brain is supposed to be about 4psi. Dad's had increased to 120psi, before he was declared brain dead and time of death was called (around 11am on Monday, Dec 7th).

At this point the decision was also made to donate his organs.

Everyone had been able to get to the hospital to be there through the night, except for my sister and I. I did not find out about the accident until 11pm PST/ 8am CET. Denise had immediately booked a flight up to Spokane (arriving on Monday at 12pm) and I booked a flight home, arriving Tuesday at 3pm.

The Aftermath
Kevin, Isaak and I arrived in Spokane at 3pm on Tuesday Dec 8th. Greg & Denise picked us up. I remember not being able to take my eyes off of Greg's boots. They still had blood on them. Dad was still on a ventilator at Sacred Heart as the Organ Donation team was in the process of finishing the work to identify as many recipients as possible. This also gave Denise and I the opportunity to see him and say good bye. I am very grateful for this.

The next several days were filled with tasks that I hope to not have to do again for a very long time. The funeral was held on Dec 14th in Endicott. Dad was buried at the Endicott cemetary. My father really didn't like crowds and liked being the center of attention even less. His funeral brought in ~300 people and filled the church. During the burial, 3 fellow ag pilots flew over the cemetary in the "missing man" formation. It was an amazing tribute to dad.

My father died too young and as the result of a tragic accident. He died doing what he loved and would want people to respect firearms but not fear them. He has left a huge hole in our lives and I miss him every day.

Dad's Obituary